Basilan fact-finding over but probers mum on findings

Brig. Gen. Edgardo Gurrea and Von Al Haq, heads of the GRP-MILF Coordinating Committee on the Cessation of Hostilities, received the 14-page document presented to them by Col. Jose Gilbert Roa, chief of the Philippine Army Judge Advocate General’s Office, who headed the fact-finding team.

Both officials, however, declined to discuss details of the findings to reporters who were present during the signing of the documents.

Gurrea and Al Haq said protocol dictates that the report will be submitted to chief negotiators of the government and the MILF, Rodolfo Garcia and Mohagher Iqbal, respectively.

"The government copy will be submitted to President Arroyo. I understand the MILF copy will be discussed by their Central Committee," Gurrea said.

"It will be up to President Arroyo and Iqbal to decide whether to publish the finding of the investigation," Al Haq said.

Roa, on the other hand, said the investigation was “very objective” and that “nobody dissented” from both the government and MILF teams.

Government and MILF ceasefire coordinating teams rushed to Basilan Island last week to conduct an investigation on the July 10 clash, the most serious incident that threaten the fragile ceasefire in Mindanao.

The team wanted to find out whether the Philippine Marines violated ceasefire protocols by entering an MILF territory without proper coordination, and as to who did the beheading of the 10 Marines.

They also planned to strengthen local ceasefire monitoring in Basilan by creating a joint monitoring team that would ensure proper coordination between Marines and rebels.

But the team was under extreme pressure from both sides.

The government wanted to exact vengeance by launching military strikes in Al-Barkah town in Basilan to arrest the suspects. The MILF, who denied they beheaded the Marines, have threatened to escalate the fighting throughout Mindanao.

Twice, the team asked for an extension from the government and the MILF, citing time factor. President Arroyo extended the deadline to July 31. Defense Secretary Norberto Gonzales also recommended another 24-hour extension when it became clear that the team could not make the July 31 deadline.

"I believe in the impartiality of this report," Al Haq said.

He said all throughout the week-long investigation, CCCH teams proved that they did not have biases to their own forces.

"This team had worked very hard to come out with an impartial finding," he said.

Al Haq said the MILF will respect the findings and if need be, bring the suspects behind the beheadings to justice.

"If these suspects are our own forces then we shall subject them to our laws," he said.

The investigation had interviewed more than 23 witnesses who had direct knowledge on the incident. The team even went to barangay Guinanta to interview the MILF ground commanders who clashed with the Marines.

They also interviewed the family members of slain imam Al-Kanul whose lifeless body was found 30 meters from the battle ground. The MILF alleged that the Marines tortured and killed the 69-year-old imam. The Marines vehemently denied this.

The team also interviewed several witnesses brought by Basilan town mayors. (Froilan Gallardo / MindaNews)

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